In the crowded arena of non-fiction filmmaking, little matters more than a fresh perspective.
When it comes to stories about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival was searching for new voices and angles to explore the situation, says Sarafina DiFelice, the festival’s associate director of programming.
Two provocative and eye-opening documentaries from Israel premiering at the festival include Death in the Terminal, a chilling investigation into a terror attack at the Be’er Sheva bus station, and Muhi – Generally Temporary. The latter film, making its Canadian première at the festival, looks at a child from Gaza who, due to a rare immune disorder, has grown up in Israel’s Tel HaShomer hospital.
“Both of these [films] had a way of illuminating the conflict in a way that we really hadn’t seen before,” DiFelice says.
Death in the Terminal, running just under an hour, moves like a thriller and is told from numerous perspectives, unfolding like the famed film Rashomon. Directed by Asaf Sudry and Tali Shemesh, the documentary moves between footage from the terminal’s security cameras and several of the witnesses talking with the filmmakers a year later.
Its tense, unpredictable plotting of a real-life situation should resonate with those who were riveted by Zero Dark Thirty, whose producer (Megan Ellison) and screenwriter (Mark Boal) are executive producers of the doc. The non-fiction thriller will screen on May 3 and 5.
For those seeking a powerful human interest story, Muhi – Generally Temporary could be an unforgettable experience. In the film, the titular child realizes the difficulty of reconciling his Palestinian identity with his Israeli upbringing at the hospital.
The filmmakers also focus on Muhi’s grandfather, Abu Naim, who is forbidden from leaving the hospital grounds due to security regulations, and thus becomes the boy’s main caregiver.
“It’s a very human and personal look at this one family’s experience,” DiFelice says. “This beautiful, small story… acts as a microcosm to speak to a much bigger problem.”
The Toronto Jewish Film Foundation will co-present Muhi when it screens at Hot Docs on April 29 and May 1.
Filmgoers who enjoyed the documentary Mr. Gaga – a 2016 festival selection about Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin that recently screened across Canada – may be interested in checking out Bobbi Jene.
That film, premiering on April 30, with subsequent showings May 4 and 6, focuses on Bobbi Jene Smith, a dancer with Tel Aviv’s Batsheva Dance Company who decides to abandon the troupe and make it on her own.
Meanwhile, DiFelice predicts that Bring the Jews Home will be one of the festival’s most talked-about titles – that is, if audiences can get past the title.
Made in the Netherlands, the outrageous doc looks at a man on a mission to convince all Jews from around the world to return to their homeland, believing this will hasten the messiah’s return. The activist subject, Koen Carlier, is a strict follower of orthodox Christian teachings, but uses unorthodox methods to pitch this journey to Israel.
With its persistent and provocative main subject, the film is bound to get people talking when it screens on May 1, 2 and 7.
Amidst the 230 non-fiction features and shorts premiering at the festival are two profiles of renowned, if controversial, Jewish figures.
House of Z looks at the rise and fall of American fashion designer Zac Posen, while Gilbert explores the personal and professional life of comedian Gilbert Gottfried. Both Posen and Gottfried will make appearances at Hot Docs.
The festival will also act as a launching ground for the newest work from various Jewish Canadian directors.
Barry Avrich (The Last Mogul) returns to Hot Docs for the Canadian première of Blurred Lines: Inside the Art World, an investigation into the high-stakes world of art collection, donation and auction. Alan Zweig premieres Hope (a follow-up to his prize-winning doc Hurt), which chronicles the challenges facing famed Canadian runner Steve Fonyo.
Toronto filmmaker Daniel Roher will present Ghosts of Our Forest, looking at the artistic efforts of an indigenous tribe in Uganda to come to terms with their difficult past.
Finally, an exciting Canadian debut will be Shiners, Stacey Tenenbaum’s engrossing look at the art of shoe shining around the world.
Hot Docs celebrates its 24th year in Toronto this spring, and runs from April 27 through May 7. To purchase tickets and check out the films in the festival lineup, visit the Hot Docs website.